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By Max Burman and Reuters
President Donald Trump is working on extraditing exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, a longtime target of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s foreign minister claimed on Sunday.
“In Argentina, Trump told Erdogan they were working on extraditing Gulen and other people,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said Sunday at a conference in Doha, referring to the G20 summit where the leaders met two weeks ago.
NBC News reported last month that the White House was looking for ways to remove Gulen from the U.S. in order to placate Turkey over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to two senior U.S. officials and two other people briefed on the requests.
Trump administration officials asked federal law enforcement agencies to examine legal ways of removing the exiled cleric in an attempt to persuade Erdogan to ease pressure on the Saudi government, the four sources said.
Gulen, 77, has become a contentious figure in Turkey after Erdogan accused him of orchestrating an attempted military coup in 2016 from his Pennsylvania compound. Gulen denies having any role in the putsch.
Special counsel Robert Mueller disclosed more details earlier this month of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s efforts to cover up the extent of his ties to the government of Turkey while he was a top official on Trump’s campaign and transition.
The documents specifically state that a key component of Flynn’s work for Turkey involved the government’s efforts to remove Gulen from the U.S. Flynn began working for Turkey about a month after the failed July 2016 coup.
NBC News previously reported that Mueller’s team was looking into whether Flynn met with senior Turkish officials in December 2016 about a possible deal under which Flynn would be paid to orchestrate the return of Gulen to Turkey once in the White House.
Flynn’s false statements about his connections to Turkey were included in his plea agreement with Mueller announced in December 2017. He faces up to six months in prison when he is sentenced on Dec. 18.
U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson — who was released in October after spending nearly two years in detention in Turkish detention — was initially charged with, among other things, helping supporters of Gulen.
Brunson’s detention prompted a prolonged diplomatic spat between the two countries.